Abe stilled himself as he handed the muggers the wallet, his gold watch flashing in the midday sun.
“Give it here,” the taller of the two said, pointing to Abe’s wrist.
He slid the timepiece over his beefy hand, arm hairs catching in the expandable band.
How long, he wondered, before they realized he’d given them a cheap knockoff of a designer make.
That’s when he heard the shot, a pop that sounded harmless, like the sudden bursting of a child’s balloon.
It had been three decades since he’d last stared down the barrel of a gun. Two drunken SS officers on motorcycles stopped him—the yellow star on his arm, their excuse for a game of cat and mouse.
They revved their engines, rode into him until he stumbled to the ground, his face sticky with blood. The drunker one pointed his pistol, and as Abe begged for his life, a horse-drawn cart filled with people, turned the corner. The distraction allowed Abe to flee, to hide in the recesses of a street sewer behind a locked gate. From there, he watched.
The family of seven had become new prey, and Abe listened to the mean, hard-throated ugliness of the officers’ language. The little girl who couldn’t stop crying was silenced first with a shot. When the mother begged to be next, the officer smashed her head with the club he used to first lift her skirt. The other officer continued to search for Abe, shining a light through the iron gate, pissing through the rails. By the time the officers were done, the entire family lay dead.
The numbers on his arm meant nothing to his tattooed attackers.
“Eat at your desk,” his wife had begged for years.
But Abe refused to bring bagged lunches like his workers.
“It’s not fitting,” he’d say in Yiddish.
His factory was in one of the roughest neighborhoods in New York. Yet every day, he left his office at noon and walked to the corner luncheonette for coffee and a buttered roll.
Abe imagined the aromatic brew, pictured his lips slick with butter.
Someone asked his name, but he was too weak to answer, a reminder of how he’d felt for long stretches without food or sleep.
“Doesn’t look good,” Abe heard.
“I’ll be okay,” he wanted to tell them, warm blood pooling on his middle.
He felt himself being lifted on a gurney and worried that someone might steal his wallet. Then he remembered—it was already gone.
There were uniforms, people shouting.
Townspeople had been rounded up in the market square.
“Left!” the enraged officer screamed.
“Right!” he barked at another.
Prayers, Abe reminded himself, are read right to left.
Abe saw a young woman begging strangers to hold her baby while she searched for her husband in the chaos. They refused, afraid she might not return.
The scent of rubbing alcohol hit him first; the metered sounds of mechanical beeping followed.
The television was on, and the smell of warmed food was familiar.
“The bullet missed his kidney by a half inch,” Abe heard someone say.
He opened his eyes.
His wife and two grown daughters hovered expectantly.
“Daddy, do you hear me?” his oldest asked.
Abe did not speak.
“You could have died,” the younger one said crying.
She’s right, he thought. He might have died, like the sacrificed seven and the baby he’d held for the mother, who in the end, returned.
I didn’t die, he thought,turning to kiss the hand stroking his cheek.
“I’m tired,” he whispered gratefully and closed his eyes.